- Social phobia is characterized by an intense fear of being negatively assessed or observed by others.
- This form of anxiety (like most forms) can make everyday tasks difficult, as the fear is excessive and can completely take over one’s life.
- In addition to worrying about being scrutinized, those with social phobia worry that others will catch onto their social fears and anxiety.
- The symptoms of this disorder are severe and not to be taken lightly—struggling to give a presentation in front of a large audience is not equivalent to social phobia.
- The good news is there is treatment for this anxiety disorder: both counseling and medication can help.
Imagine you’re walking into a party. Instead of greeting all of your friends with smiles and hugs, you look down at your feet and rush immediately to the bathroom. Your heart is racing and sweat is running down your forehead. Everyone’s talking about me. They hate my outfit. They don’t think I belong here. They think I’m a loser. You spend 20 minutes in the bathroom just working up the courage to leave. Finally, you’re able to make it out—head down and quickly, of course. As soon as you step outside of the house and enter a quiet, isolated space you can breathe again.
This is a brief look at what it’s like to suffer with social anxiety or social phobia—the main feature being an intense fear of social situations in which an individual may be negatively viewed by others. As you can see, the effects of social anxiety can make what should be a simple or even fun task difficult.
What Are the Symptoms of Social Phobia?
The following are symptoms, as well as diagnostic criteria for social anxiety, as set forth by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5):
- The individual has an intense fear of social situations that may involve being scrutinized or observed by others.
- He or she worries that others will take notice of this fear or anxiety and make fun of them for it, which may lead to rejection.
- Social situations always make the individual grow fearful; in children, this fear is expressed through cries, clinging, and tantrums.
- Social situations are avoided at all cost.
- The fear is excessive, especially compared to the actual threat of the social situation at hand.
- The fear causes severe stress or impairment in important areas of functioning.
- The fear (or avoidance) is not due to the physiological effects of a different medical condition or substance or another mental disorder.
It should be noted that a lot of people get nervous around other people on occasion—for example, many of us have anxiety about giving a presentation or public speaking. This, however, does not mean we have social anxiety or phobia.
Am I At Risk of Developing Social Phobia?
Social anxiety or social phobia sometimes occurs in those who have a history of shyness. It could be triggered by a traumatic or embarrassing life event or even a life-changing decision like getting married or starting a new job. It may hang in the balance, disappearing when the individual conquers a fear, but returning when the individual is challenged yet again.
Presentation can differ among age groups: older adults experience social anxiety at a lesser level, but fear a greater multitude of situations; younger individuals, on the other hand, report greater levels of social anxiety but in very specific instances. Also, adolescents more consistently experience fear and avoidance than younger children. Now, there are several additional factors that may affect susceptibility to developing social anxiety. These factors raise concern and possibly your risk level:
- The individual has a history of fearing the scrutiny of others.
- He or she was neglected as a child.
- The phobia runs in the individual’s family.
Social Anxiety on the Big Screen
Charlie so easily steals our hearts with his charisma, charm, and innocent nature, in novel and film The Perks of Being a Wallflower. And while it may not occur to you due to his boldness, it is possible that he has social anxiety. Let’s make a careful evaluation:
- Overview: Charlie is a young teen, one who is simply trying to maneuver through his first years of high school despite past and current struggles. This isn’t always easy, as he’s still very much dealing with his best friend’s recent suicide and a history of being sexually abused by his aunt.
- Diagnosis: Although it isn’t exclusively discussed in the novel or film, it appears that Charlie may suffer from a few disorders. He has recurrent flashbacks related to his abuse, which cause him emotional distress—and ultimately may suffer from posttraumatic stress disorder. Additionally, Charlie has trouble navigating normal social interactions. He grew up shy and sheltered and fears the scrutiny of his peers. While Charlie certainly doesn’t allow any of these factors to get in his way when it matters the most, they could point to a mild form of social anxiety.
- Conclusion: Charlie has many of the risk factors for social anxiety and shows possible symptoms. But remember, one cannot make a sure diagnosis unless the individual meets all of the criteria outlined in the DSM.
Treatment for Social Anxiety Disorder
Many individuals who suffer with anxiety disorders don’t seek treatment due to shame or feeling as if they can just deal with it on their own. However, treatment is available and effective. Here are a couple options:
- Counseling: Working through an individual’s fears with a therapist can be effective, as it’s important to identify these fears and figure out what may provoke them.
- Medication: There are many anxiety-reducing medications out there such as antidepressants. Your psychiatrist or therapist can help you find the right fit!